Josh Modell: Okay Alex, I know that’s a dramatic headline, and a little misleading. But last night (June 10) we went to see the Pixies at Metro in Chicago. I had seen them many times before, but it was your first time even though you’re clearly a fan. The show was just announced yesterday morning; the band was supposed to open for Robert Plant at a big-ass nightmare venue, but Plant got sick, so the Pixies announced this show—at a club they first (and last) played in 1989, and which is legendary for a reason—and it sold out immediately.
Now, though I’m a big fan, I didn’t even consider going to the Robert Plant show, because it’s just not the ideal scenario to see a band you like—playing to somebody else’s crowd at an enormous outdoor venue, and with probably a 40-minute set. I’m too old for that shit. But seeing the Pixies at Metro, an 1,100-capacity club with great sightlines and great sound, to a crowd that loves the band enough to find out about the show and snap up tickets? That’s pretty ideal. And it’s also why I found myself thinking—after you told me this was your first-ever Pixies show—that it might very well be my last.
This reunion has been going on for 11 years now, and who knows how much longer they’ll be at it? And if they do come around again, they’ll end up either playing a festival—they were bored off their asses at Riot Fest two years ago—or a much less intimate venue. This two-hour set at one of my favorite places to see music seems like a perfect way of capping off my live Pixies-seeing career. It was a great show, and we can get into the specifics later. So… What did you think as a first-timer?
Alex McCown: Josh, you are such a drama queen with that headline. But in this case, you are also right—though perhaps for slightly different reasons than you’ve articulated.
I missed every other opportunity I’ve ever had to see the Pixies, starting with that inaugural 2004 reunion tour. There was always some good reason—I was usually out of town the night of the show—but it was always something I kicked myself for not seeing. Finally, a decade and change later, I got my chance, and in many ways, it was exactly what I hoped for. They had energy, they were clearly enjoying themselves, and they played 90 percent classic tunes. (I’ve avoided the new record, a choice you said I was wise to make.) It really reminded me just how many straight-up classics the band has. Even given the total sing-along from the entire audience with every other tune they played, there were a good dozen other songs that everyone in my life knows by heart that they left out. It felt deeply satisfying to finally watch a band whose catalog I memorized long ago perform those tracks. It was the musical equivalent of “When do we get to the fireworks factory?” paying off in spades.
And yet. Despite the many good things about this show you listed above (small club, great sound, passionate audience), I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had still missed the boat. I’m referring, of course, to the notable absence of Kim Deal. Regardless of Frank Black’s indomitable presence, the group has always felt somewhat all-or-nothing to me, and Deal, in particular, struck me as an invaluable member. Drummer David Lovering has admitted as much, saying “no one can replace” the bassist. Yet replace her they did, and as much as I enjoyed the show, it definitely carried the faint air of being “Well, if you can’t see the true Pixies, here’s most of them!” It was like seeing the reunited Van Halen with Eddie’s kid on bass—it’s probably still a ton of fun (I’m obviously just guessing here, since that’s a show I’ll never see), but not quite the same.
None of this, by the way, should be construed as a knock on touring bassist Paz Lenchantin. She was superb, nailing those harmonies and doing an uncanny evocation of both Deal’s vocal timbre and bass rhythms. She undoubtedly added to the group, and I enjoyed watching her perform. But it’s just not, you know, the genuine article. I’ve seen footage of recent Springsteen shows with that guy who replaced Clarence Clemons: It looks really fun, but let’s be honest—it’s not really the E Street Band any more. Did any of this cross your mind as you watched the show, or is this my sour grapes?
Josh Modell: Well, I didn’t even realize that was A Perfect Circle’s Paz Lenchantin! But actually I thought she was great, and I’m more or less at peace seeing the Pixies without Kim. No, you won’t get “Gigantic,” but as long as the rest of the band is reasonably on top of things, I’m not bothered by Deal’s absence. That said, it’s a pretty massively different energy than the Pixies of the past. The first time around—I saw them in 1989, opening for Love & Rockets, when I was just a child!—there was obviously more of the scattered weirdness of doing it for the first time. I even drove up to Minneapolis for the very first reunion show in 2004, and they were clearly nervous to be around each other, which you can see in the documentary loudQUIETloud. (You can also see me if you pause it at exactly the right moment!)
Now, it feels like everybody’s getting along and doing a victory lap—and there’s nothing wrong with that at all, it’s just a little different. It’s better in some ways, and the band’s bows before the encore seemed sweet and genuine. They were very clearly having a great time—let’s talk about Joey’s ridiculous solo later—and that showed in the music, though I’m not sure if songs like “I’ve Been Tired” (“losing my penis to a whore with disease!”) are all about the good times.
Overall, Deal or not, they played really well, and they seemed into it. Like I said above, the last time I saw them, at Riot Fest, and maybe even the time before that, they seemed bored and going through the motions. Maybe the opportunity to headline for diehards—for surely far less money than they make at festivals—ignited something fun in them. It certainly showed in the set list, right? It wasn’t a greatest-hits run through or an insistence on the new stuff: They played five songs from Indie Cindy—a way to say they like the record, I guess—but also hits (“Wave Of Mutilation,” “Here Comes Your Man,” “Debaser,” “Velouria”) and deep-ish cuts (“I’ve Been Tired,” “Cactus”).
And man, you’re right—it’s shocking how many classics they’re responsible for. I had forgotten about their cover of The Jesus And Mary Chain’s “Head On,” and how great “U-Mass” is. (Really great.) I thought we’d get “Monkey Gone To Heaven,” which I can live without, and I would’ve loved to hear “Tame” and “Dead,” but whaddya gonna do? Make them play all night? They already did 29 songs in the span of two hours, Alex. Give these old guys a break! Seriously, though, what did you want to hear that they didn’t play? And are you willing to give Indie Cindy another spin based on the songs they played from it? I found it so aggressively mediocre on my first few listens that I haven’t gone back. But I’m now slightly tempted…
Alex McCown: I’m going to give it a spin now, just to see if the songs sound as obviously “20 years later different” as they did last night. Never having heard them before, it was pretty obvious which songs were the new ones, even if I hadn’t been able to identify every one of their older songs by the opening chords. They just felt a little predictable, like what you would come up with if you were locked in a room and told to write an album that sounded like the Pixies.
But man, those old gems. So good, right? “Here Comes Your Man” sounded perfect, and even songs I’ve never particularly cared for, like “La La Love You,” took on a new vitality, thanks to the enthusiasm with which they laid into it. You’re absolutely right that they seemed to be having a ball. Having never seen them before, I definitely would come away from this thinking they were great, and it sounds like this show was a real palate cleanser for you, after the miserable shows you saw them play prior to it. I almost wanted to mosh when that Jesus And Mary Chain cover got going. I, too, missed “Monkey Gone To Heaven,” along with tracks like “I Bleed” or (yes, you called it) “Gigantic” or “Bone Machine.”
But this “victory lap,” as you put it, also carries its own set of risks; and in this case, it was that set-closing guitar solo. Woof. Apparently it was Santiago’s birthday? I mean, Frank Black interrupted the show early on to sing it to him, so I’m assuming that was the case. And I guess for his birthday, Joey Santiago wanted to try and annoy everyone. That was the least effort I’ve ever seen put into anything, and I’ve congratulated people on their improv sets. IN PERSON. He basically just rubbed the guitar on his body for a number of minutes while stepping on pedals that were set to “obnoxious.” I get it, he was having fun, goofing around, and while that energy translated into a rambunctious and celebratory set, it also made for a rotten way to close things out.
Were you equally irritated by that solo? Were you able to shrug it off? And, more importantly, will you stick to your commitment to make this your final Pixies show?
Josh Modell: I was mildly irritated, but I wouldn’t have been irritated at all if it had been about half as long. From what I gather, he’s been goofing around for a couple of minutes during “Vamos” forever, but this did seem particularly indulgent. I would have preferred a couple more super short Pixies songs—they could’ve done “Tame” and “Crackity Jones” and maybe even “Wave Of Mutilation” for a third time during that solo. But what can you do? Gotta let them have some fun, too, I guess.
But will this be my last Pixies show? I can’t imagine a situation presenting itself that would make me go see them again. If they’re headlining the Aragon or playing midday at a festival that I wasn’t already going to be at, I’d probably think to myself, “It won’t be nearly as good as the last time.” Why spoil it? But I won’t shut the door forever. If they announce another last minute show at Metro again at some point, and I can get in, I’ll be there. I might even give Indie Cindy another spin before I go.